Putin at Valdai

SOCHI, RUSSIA – OCTOBER 21, 2021: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addresses the 18th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club titled “Global Shake-Up in the 21st Century: The Individual, Values, and the State.” Dmitry Feoktistov/TASS

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Valdai International Discussion Club meeting on October 27, gave a speech that described his ideology, and he took questions from the audience and answered further regarding a number of highly important issues. Everything that he said there is consistent with what he has previously stated, but this event was perhaps the fullest-ever exposition of his views, which I, as an American historian, have always found to be remarkably similar to the views that U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) stated, especially in private, and which guided his actions both domestically and especially in international affairs. FDR was passionately anti-imperialistic, and believed that both of the two World Wars resulted from clashes between imperialistic powers, and that the top goal for the post-WW-II world must be to outlaw all empires and replace them all by a United Nations (he even named it) that would be a global federation of all nations and in whose General Assembly each nation will have one vote, but which will also have a Security Council in which each one of the major world powers will negotiate differences between themselves so that no major world power will be able to violate the national sovereignty of any other major world power — and this would include allowing the ability (such as JFK negotiated with Khrushchev during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis) to prevent any other major world power from using any nation that borders any other major world power (such as Cuba does near America), to ally itself (especially militarily) with another major world power. (This principle would likewise limit complete sovereignty both for Ukraine and Taiwan — and for any other nation that borders a major world power.) FDR also believed that the U.N. must have the global monopoly control over all geostrategic weaponry, as a further means of outlawing imperialism and the wars that imperialism produces. (Harry S. Truman castrated FDR’s U.N. plan, which he despised.)

Too little attention has been paid by historians to FDR’s ideology, which really drew very heavily from Abraham Lincoln’s, which, in turn, drew very heavily from the authors of the Declaration of Independence and of the U.S. Constitution — especially from Thomas Jefferson and James Wilson. Consequently, readers here who are acquainted with the writings by those authors (the people who wrote those two documents) will find here a 21st Century version of that ideology, coming from a Russian historical and cultural perspective. These are highlights only, both from Putin’s speech and from his answers to questions which were posed to him after it:

Valdai International Discussion Club meeting

27 October 2022

Ladies and gentlemen, friends. …

We have used the Valdai Club platform to discuss, more than once, the major and serious shifts that have already taken place and are taking place around the world, the risks posed by the degradation of global institutions, the erosion of collective security principles and the substitution of “rules” for international law. I was tempted to say “we are clear about who came up with these rules,” but, perhaps, that would not be an accurate statement. We have no idea whatsoever who made these rules up, what these rules are based on, or what is contained inside these rules. …

The so-called West which is, of course, a theoretical construct since it is not united and clearly is a highly complex conglomerate, but I will still say that the West has taken a number of steps in recent years and especially in recent months that are designed to escalate the situation. As a matter of fact, they always seek to aggravate matters, which is nothing new, either. This includes the stoking of war in Ukraine, the provocations around Taiwan, and the destabilisation of the global food and energy markets. To be sure, the latter was, of course, not done on purpose, there is no doubt about it. The destabilisation of the energy market resulted from a number of systemic missteps made by the Western authorities that I mentioned above. As we can see now, the situation was further aggravated by the destruction of the pan-European gas pipelines. This is something otherworldly altogether, but we are nevertheless witnessing these sad developments.

Global power is exactly what the so-called West has at stake in its game. But this game is certainly dangerous, bloody and, I would say, dirty. It denies the sovereignty of countries and peoples, their identity and uniqueness, and tramples upon other states’ interests. In any case, even if denial is the not the word used, they are doing it in real life. No one, except those who create these rules I have mentioned is entitled to retain their identity: everyone else must comply with these rules. …

Belief in one’s infallibility is very dangerous; it is only one step away from the desire of the infallible to destroy those they do not like, or as they say, to cancel them. Just think about the meaning of this word.

Even at the very peak of the Cold War, the peak of the confrontation of the two systems, ideologies and military rivalry, it did not occur to anyone to deny the very existence of the culture, art, and science of other peoples, their opponents. …

At one time, the Nazis reached the point of burning books, and now the Western “guardians of liberalism and progress” have reached the point of banning Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky. The so-called “cancel culture” and in reality – as we said many times – the real cancellation of culture is eradicating everything that is alive and creative and stifles free thought in all areas, be it economics, politics or culture.

Today, liberal ideology itself has changed beyond recognition. If initially, classic liberalism was understood to mean the freedom of every person to do and say as they pleased, in the 20th century the liberals started saying that the so-called open society had enemies and that the freedom of these enemies could and should be restricted if not cancelled. …

But Dostoevsky will live on, as will Tchaikovsky, Pushkin, no matter how much they would have liked the opposite.

Standardisation, financial and technological monopoly, the erasure of all differences is what underlies the Western model of globalisation, which is neocolonial in nature. Their goal was clear – to establish the unconditional dominance of the West in the global economy and politics. To do that, the West put at its service the entire planet’s natural and financial resources, as well as all intellectual, human and economic capabilities, while alleging it was a natural feature of the so-called new global interdependence.

As soon as non-western countries began to derive some benefits from globalisation, above all, the large nations in Asia, the West immediately changed or fully abolished many of those rules. And the so-called sacred principles of free trade, economic openness, equal competition, even property rights were suddenly forgotten, completely. They change the rules on the go, on the spot wherever they see an opportunity for themselves. …

So currently, an overwhelming majority of the international community is demanding democracy in international affairs and rejecting all forms of authoritarian dictate by individual countries or groups of countries. What is this if not the direct application of democratic principles to international relations?

What stance has the “civilised” West adopted? If you are democrats, you are supposed to welcome the natural desire for freedom expressed by billions of people, but no. The West is calling it undermining the liberal rules-based order. It is resorting to economic and trade wars, sanctions, boycotts and colour revolutions, and preparing and carrying out all sorts of coups.

One of them led to tragic consequences in Ukraine in 2014. They supported it and even specified the amount of money they had spent on this coup. They have the cheek to act as they please and have no scruples about anything they do. They killed [Qasem] Soleimani, an Iranian general. You can think whatever you want about Soleimani, but he was a foreign state official. They killed him in a third country and assumed responsibility. What is that supposed to mean, for crying out loud? What kind of world are we living in? …

Over a thousand years, Russia has developed a unique culture of interaction between all world religions. There is no need to cancel anything, be it Christian values, Islamic values or Jewish values. We have other world religions as well. All you need to do is respect each other. In a number of our regions – I just know this firsthand – people celebrate Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and Jewish holidays together, and they enjoy doing so, as they congratulate each other and are happy for each other. …

I am convinced that real democracy in a multipolar world is primarily about the ability of any nation – I emphasise – any society or any civilisation to follow its own path and organise its own socio-political system. …

The world is diverse by nature and Western attempts to squeeze everyone into the same pattern are clearly doomed. Nothing will come out of them.

The conceited aspiration to achieve global supremacy and, essentially, to dictate or preserve leadership by dictate is really reducing the international prestige of the leaders of the Western world, including the United States, and increasing mistrust in their ability to negotiate in general. They say one thing today and another tomorrow; they sign documents and renounce them, they do what they want. There is no stability in anything. How documents are signed, what was discussed, what can we hope for – all this is completely unclear.

Previously, only a few countries dared argue with America and it looked almost sensational, whereas now it has become routine for all manner of states to reject Washington’s unfounded demands despite its continued attempts to exert pressure on everyone. …

As an independent and distinctive civilization, Russia has never considered and does not consider itself an enemy of the West. Americophobia, Anglophobia, Francophobia, and Germanophobia are the same forms of racism as Russophobia or anti-Semitism, and, incidentally, xenophobia in all its guises. …

In 2000, after I was elected President, I will always remember what I faced: I will remember the price we paid for destroying the den of terrorism in the North Caucasus, which the West almost openly supported at the time. …

What is more, not only did the West actively support terrorists on Russian territory, but in many ways it nurtured this threat. We know this. Nevertheless, after the situation had stabilised, when the main terrorist gangs had been defeated, including thanks to the bravery of the Chechen people, we decided not to turn back, not to play the offended, but to move forward, to build relations even with those who actually acted against us, to establish and develop relations with all who wanted them, based on mutual benefit and respect for one another. …

Russia is not challenging the Western elites. Russia is simply upholding its right to exist and to develop freely. Importantly, we will not become a new hegemon ourselves. Russia is not suggesting replacing a unipolar world with a bipolar, tripolar or other dominating order, or replacing Western domination with domination from the East, North or South. This would inevitably lead to another impasse. …

I am convinced that dictatorship can only be countered through free development of countries and peoples; the degradation of the individual can be set off by the love of a person as a creator; primitive simplification and prohibition can be replaced with the flourishing complexity of culture and tradition.

The significance of today’s historical moment lies in the opportunities for everyone’s democratic and distinct development path, which is opening up before all civilisations, states and integration associations. We believe above all that the new world order must be based on law and right, and must be free, distinctive and fair.

The world economy and trade also need to become fairer and more open. Russia considers the creation of new international financial platforms inevitable; this includes international transactions. These platforms should be above national jurisdictions. They should be secure, depoliticized and automated and should not depend on any single control centre. Is it possible to do this or not? Of course it is possible. This will require a lot of effort. Many countries will have to pool their efforts, but it is possible. …

Clearly, we have a common and very pragmatic interest in free and open scientific and technological exchange. United, we stand to win more than if we act separately. The majority should benefit from these exchanges, not individual super-rich corporations.

How are things going today? If the West is selling medicines or crop seeds to other countries, it tells them to kill their national pharmaceutical industries and selection. In fact, it all comes down to this: its machine tool and equipment supplies destroy the local engineering industry. I realised this back when I served as Prime Minister. Once you open your market to a certain product group, the local manufacturer instantly goes belly up and it is almost impossible for him to raise his head. That’s how they build relationships. That’s how they take over markets and resources, and countries lose their technological and scientific potential. This is not progress; it is enslavement and reducing economies to primitive levels.

Technological development should not increase global inequality, but rather reduce it. …

Let me emphasise again that sovereignty and a unique path of development in no way mean isolation or autarky. On the contrary, they are about energetic and mutually beneficial cooperation based on the principles of fairness and equality. …

Unity among humankind cannot be created by issuing commands such as “do as I do” or “be like us.” It is created with consideration for everyone’s opinion and with a careful approach to the identity of every society and every nation. This is the principle that can underlie long-term cooperation in a multipolar world. …

Thank you very much.

Fyodor Lukyanov: Thank you very much, Mr President, for such an all-encompassing speech.

I cannot but spontaneously grasp at the conclusion, as long as you mentioned the revolutionary situation, those at the top and those at the bottom. Those of us who are a bit older studied all this at school. Who do you associate yourself with, those at the top or the bottom?

Vladimir Putin: With the bottom, of course, I am from the bottom.

My mother was… As you know, I said it many times that I come from a working family. My father was a foreman, he graduated from a vocational school. My mother did not receive education, even secondary, she was a mere worker, and had many jobs; she worked as a nurse in a hospital, and as a janitor and a night watchman. She did not want to leave me in kindergarten or in nursery.

So therefore, I naturally am very sensitive – thank God this has been the case until now and, I hope, will continue – to the pulse of what an ordinary person lives though.

Fyodor Lukyanov: So, on the global level, you are among those who “don’t want to [live in the old way]?”

Vladimir Putin: At the global level, naturally, it is one of my responsibilities to monitor what is going on the global level. I stand for what I just said, for democratic relations with regard to the interests of all participants in international communication, not just the interests of the so-called golden billion. …

Fyodor Lukyanov: Excellent.

Mr President, your decision to start a special military operation in February came as a big surprise for everyone, including the majority of Russian citizens. We know that you have described the logic and reasons for that decision many times. However, decisions of this importance are hardly made without a special motive. What happened before you made the decision?

Vladimir Putin: I have said this many times, and you will hardly hear anything new today. What happened? I will not speak about NATO’s expansion to Ukraine, which was absolutely unacceptable to us, and everyone knew that but simply disregarded our security interests. … I said at the outset, on the day the operation started, that the most important thing for us is to help Donbass. I have already mentioned this, and if we had acted differently, we would not have been able to deploy our Armed Forces on both sides of Donbass. …

Ivan Safranchuk: Ivan Safranchuk, MGIMO University.

… Is it true that the world is on the verge of the possible use of nuclear weapons? How will Russia act in these circumstances? …

Vladimir Putin: Nuclear provocation and the inflaming of the possibility that Russia might theoretically use nuclear weapons are being used to reach these goals: to influence our friends, our allies, and neutral states by telling them, look at whom you support; Russia is such a scary country, do not support it, do not cooperate with it, do not trade with it. This is, in fact, a primitive goal.

What is happening in reality? After all, we have never said anything proactively about Russia potentially using nuclear weapons. All we did was hint in response to statements made by Western leaders. …

Finally, about using or not using [nuclear weapons]. The only country in the world which has used nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state was the United States of America; they used it twice against Japan. What was the goal? There was no military need for it at all. What was the military practicability to use nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, against civilians? Had there been a threat to the US territorial integrity? Of course not. It was not practical from the military point of view either, because Japan’s war machine had already been destroyed, it was not able to resist, so what was the point in dealing the final blow with nuclear weapons?

By the way, Japanese textbooks usually say that it was the Allies that struck a nuclear blow at Japan. They have such a firm grip over Japan that the Japanese cannot even write the truth in their school textbooks. … As for Russia…We have the Military Doctrine, and they should read it. One of its articles explains the cases when, why, in relation to what and how Russia considers it possible to use weapons of mass destruction in the form of nuclear weapons to protect its sovereignty, territorial integrity and to ensure the safety of the Russian people. …

Fyodor Lukyanov: All right. And what about the role of a leader who has to make a decision on this issue?

Vladimir Putin: We are ready to settle any issues. We are not refusing. Last December we offered the United States to continue the dialogue on strategic stability but received no response. It was in December of last year. Silence. …

Fyodor Lukyanov: Two years ago, you spoke highly about President Erdogan at the Valdai Club meeting, saying that he did not go back on his words but did what he said he would do. Many things have happened over the past two years. Has your opinion of him changed?

Vladimir Putin: No. He is a competent and strong leader who is guided above all, and possibly exclusively, by the interests of Turkiye, its people and its economy. This largely explains his position on energy issues and, for example, on the construction of TurkStream.

We have proposed building a gas hub in Turkiye for European consumers. Turkiye has supported this idea, of course, first of all, based on its own interests. We have many common interests in tourism, the construction sector and agriculture. There are many areas where we have common interests.

President Erdogan never lets anyone get a free ride or acts in the interests of third countries. He upholds above all the interests of Turkiye, including in dialogue with us. In this sense, Turkiye as a whole and personally President Erdogan are not easy partners; many of our decisions are born amid long and difficult debates and negotiations.

But there is a desire on both sides to reach agreements, and we usually do it. In this sense, President Erdogan is a consistent and reliable partner. This is probably his most important trait, that he is a reliable partner. …

Kubat Rakhimov: I am Kubat Rakhimov from the Kyrgyz Republic.

… What do you think of the possibility of relocating the capital of the Russian Federation to the centre of the country, that is, to the centre of the Eurasian continent, so it can be closer to countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: … Yes, we have talked about this. The Russian capital has been moved several times in the history of the Russian state. Historically and mentally, the centre of Russia is always associated with Moscow and, in my opinion, there is no need.

There are problems in the capital’s development as a metropolitan area, but I must say that, with Mayor Sobyanin’s team, these problems are addressed and resolved much better than in many other countries and metropolitan areas. …

Alexander Prokhanov: Mr President, very often foreigners ask us, “What can you, Russians, offer to the modern world? Where are your Nobel Prize winners? Where are your great discoveries, industrial and scientific achievements?” My colleagues often answer, “Well, what about the great Russian culture? Pushkin? Rublev? Russian icons? The marvellous Russian architecture?” They say, “But this was all in the past. What about today?”

When I listened to you today, it dawned on me what Russia can offer to the world: Russia can offer a religion of justice, because this religion, this feeling is at the heart of all Russian culture and Russian self-sacrifice. And today, Russia is making this sacrifice, essentially, it is standing up alone to the rest of the world, the cruel Western world, waging this fight for justice. … Maybe we should make the current Russian ideology a religion of justice?

Vladimir Putin: You know, you just said that we are making sacrifices for the sake of other peoples. I’ll argue with you here. We are not sacrificing anything. We are working to strengthen our sovereignty, and it is in our own interests. First of all, strengthening our financial and economic sovereignty, it will lay the foundation for our future growth – technological, educational and scientific growth.

Whether we have Nobel Prize laureates or not. When did Alferov make his invention? He was awarded the Nobel Prize for it after 30 years – or how many? Is that all that matters? The former President of the United States was awarded a Nobel prize. Is this an indicator of real achievement? With all due respect to both the Nobel Committee and the winner of this remarkable Nobel Prize, is that the only indicator?

Eric Zuesse is an investigative historian. His next book (soon to be published) will be America’s Empire of Evil: Hitler’s Posthumous Victory, and Why the Social Sciences Need to Change. It’s about how America took over the world after World War II in order to enslave it to U.S.-and-allied billionaires. Their cartels extract the world’s wealth by control of not only their ‘news’ media but the social "sciences" — duping the public. Read other articles by Eric.